CHESTERTOWN — Local members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby are seeking community support for a federal bill they think will help put the nation on track to reducing harmful carbon emissions.
The bill in question is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives Jan. 24 and currently under review by the Subcommittee on Energy. It is backed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonprofit and non-partisan group that is working to get policies enacted to fight climate change.
“This bill imposes a fee on the carbon content of fuels, including crude oil, natural gas, coal, or any other product derived from those fuels that will be used so as to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” the act states. “The fees must be deposited into a Carbon Dividend Trust Fund and used for administrative expenses and dividend payments to U.S. citizens or lawful residents.”
Citizens’ Climate Lobby members Hope Clark of Chestertown and Cora Dickson of Rock Hall participated in a panel discussion on the bill, listed as HR 763, June 1 at the Kent County Public Library’s main branch in Chestertown.
Panelists included Scott Budden of Orchard Point Oysters; Nicholas DiPasquale, former Chesapeake Bay Program director and now a policy advisor for ShoreRivers; Greg Farley, director of sustainability at Washington College; Adalbert Mayer, economics chairman at the college; and Katherine Maynard of Kent and Queen Anne’s Indivisible. Also in attendance was Walter Smoloski, a legislative correspondent for U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, who said he was there to listen and provide feedback to the congressman but not offer any statement on his behalf.
Clark led the discussion, talking about climate change and the concerning levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which have increased sharply since World War II. Polls were taken among audience members on their knowledge of climate change and their willingness to take action.
“There is a scientific consensus that global warming is real,” Clark said.
She said it is being caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, increases in which are the result of human activity. She said some scientists are giving us 12 years to cut global emissions in half to ensure climate change does not have a devastating effect on humanity. She spoke about how seasonal and weather patterns are changing and how wildlife is facing habitat loss and extinction.
“Some people call it a crisis,” Clark said. “It is.”
Budden, whose Orchard Point Oysters are grown in an aquaculture operation on the Chester River, spoke about how climate change affects his business, altering his growing schedule. He spoke about rising water temperatures and increased rainfall’s effect on salinity levels.
“That is really a big key metric that we look at — salinity,” Budden said. “It plays a big role in the ecology of the Bay.”
The panelists also spoke about how much more there is to learn on how climate change is affecting the Earth, such as those changing weather patterns.
“There are things that we do understand, things that we are beginning to understand and things that we do not yet understand,” Farley said, adding, for example, that there does not appear to be an increase in frequency of tropical cyclones and hurricane globally, but they are coming on with greater intensity and explosive development.
There also were discussions on bills before Congress from U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both D-Md., and the Green New Deal.
The focal piece of legislation being pushed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby though is HR 763, which has two Maryland co-sponsors, Democrats Jamie Raskin from the 8th District and David J. Trone from the 6th District, and a lone Republican, Francis Rooney of Florida.
The bill sought by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby would place a fee of $15 per metric ton on fossil fuel emissions as close to the source of production as possible, such as mines and wells. That fee would increase by $10 per metric ton annually.
To offset the costs that would be passed down to consumers, 100% of the fees would be placed in a Carbon Dividend Trust Fund. Monthly dividends would then be paid to every household in the country out of that fund.
“About two-thirds of Americans will receive more in Dividends than they will pay in higher prices. This feature will inject billions into the economy, protect family budgets, free households to make independent choices about their energy usage, spur innovation, and build aggregate demand for low-carbon products at the consumer level,” the Citizens’ Climate Lobby website states.
“So you’re talking about a tax?” an audience member said.
“Yeah, we don’t use that word,” Clark said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received criticism when he called a similar carbon-pricing plan a “tax,” a slip before Parliament that elicited loud audience reaction as he tried to correct himself.
“What if you called it a tariff?” another audience member at the library June 1 quipped.
Mayer said economists like ideas such as HR 763 because rather than the government barring people from using certain products, it provides an incentive for consumers to find more environmentally friendly alternatives. He said those who have long commutes to work and drive inefficient vehicles will lose, while those in energy-efficient houses close to their jobs will do better.
“It has to hurt, otherwise people won’t change,” Mayer said. “It also creates an incentive for innovation.”
Concerns were raised about how it would affect low- to moderate-income families who may not be able to afford new cars or efficiency enhancements to their homes.
“I just worry that there might be a lot of burden placed upon normal people that don’t have the ability to have that kind of mobility and planning for the future,” Budden said.
He suggested possibly have some of the dividends go toward research and development.
Mayer said the idea is that everyone pays 10 cents more for gas or fuel oil, then all of that is split up and paid out evenly. He said then, when people look at new homes, they think about how close they are to work. He said when people look at new cars, they think more about fuel efficiency. He said there are “a million small decisions” people can make in respect to their carbon footprint.
“The beauty of this is it’s a market-based solution,” Mayer said of HR 763.
Mayer said that everyone would receive the same dividend check, regardless of their emissions output. He said the wealthy tend to have larger carbon footprints. For example, they are able to travel more and to farther away locations. Still, he said a $1,000 dividend check will not mean as much to a wealthy household as it will to a low-income home with a much smaller carbon footprint.
“It might help to think about the cost if we don’t do something. Right now we’re seeing costs that are buried in local government budgets. We’re seeing costs for health impacts that we’re not aware are connected to climate change. We’re seeing the potential for massive disruption of ecosystems and everything that comes along with it. So I think as we look at this, any of these proposals, we need to think about what the cost is going to be if we don’t do something,” DiPasquale said.
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby has developed a calculator to give people an idea of what they would pay and be paid should HR 763 pass. It can be found at citizensclimatelobby.org/calculator.
Clark said that in order for any new policy to be effective in fighting climate change, it has to come with an incentive to support change, it has to stick so that it remains in place beyond election cycles and it has to be healthy for the environment and the economy.
“We really need something right now. Right, right now,” Clark said. “We need to kind of look at what is going to be really effective for us. And the challenge is of course we’ve very been dependent on fossil fuels. And if we price fossil fuels, how do we make this process work? How do we shift our way of living?”
A copy of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 can be found at www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/763. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby provides additional information on the bill at energyinnovation.org.